A review of Ray Kurzweil's Law of Accelerating Returns (Please read the material in the Reply)

#1

Hello, My name is Stephen Fleenor. I was hoping I could share another view of the dangers of technology. Any input is greatly appreciated, I look forward to a discussion with you all. :slight_smile:

A review of Ray Kurzweil’s “The Law of Accelerating Returns”

In 2001 a computer scientist named Ray Kurzweil wrote an essay called “The Law of Accelerating Returns”. The essay focuses on the rate technology and change progresses, Ray points out that change has been exponential (the change happens faster and faster) all the way down to evolution. In my view, this “law” even seems to expand all the way into the creation of our universe, we know space is expanding, and the farther a galaxy moves away from us, the faster it moves. He believes technology has been doing the same thing, and it could soon reach a point that humans simply will not be able to keep up with the rate of change, this “Tech Explosion” he refers to as the Singularity, he warns that technology like Artificial Intelligence could soon have control of our destiny.

There is a problem with Ray’s essay though, it leads to some MAJOR skepticism and to be honest, it is pretty “out there”. The essay talks about reverse engineering the human brain, making a digital copy of it, and saving it to a computer (even going as far as talking about the ethics of this). I am an IT professional by trade, so I can kind of understand some of his points that make something like this possible, but the general public will probably discount the entire essay as Science Fiction. As I read the essay, he predicted many things that have come true 18 years later, and they deserve some major attention, especially since we are officially entering an age of Artificial Intelligence.

I my attempt to review this essay for facts and to shed additional light on this broad topic, I searched the internet and found a document that to me at least, is the best source of actual facts regarding Artificial Intelligence that is available; “PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE” from the Executive Office of the President, National Science and Technology Council Committee on Technology”, released in 2016. I will be using this document and other current technology examples as tools to filter out some truths that skeptics might have otherwise considered Science Fiction.

To start, I would to talk about the product Google just announced will be available in March of 2019 called Duplex. This product is the first taste of real artificial intelligence the public will have. This amazing piece of software will allow our virtual assistant to call and make appointments for us, having a full-blown conversation with the person who answers! Duplex has an eerily human sounding voice, the person on the other end of the call will have no idea they are talking to a virtual assistant in someone’s phone. In Ray’s essay, he states “This is the nature of exponential growth. Although technology grows in the exponential domain, we humans live in a linear world. So technological trends are not noticed as small levels of technological power are doubled. Then seemingly out of nowhere, a technology explodes into view”. The fact that all of a sudden, the phone in my pocket can make a phone call and set an appointment for me, proves this point.

Ray’s essay also states “the future will be far more surprising than most observers realize: few have truly internalized the implications of the fact that the rate of change itself is accelerating”. An immediate realization I had when I heard about Google Duplex was the possibility of many call center employees losing their jobs, I mean, why would a call center not want to replace their biggest expenditure, people? The official United States document “PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE” states “AI’s central economic effect in the short term will be the automation of tasks that could not be automated before. This will likely increase productivity and create wealth, but it may also affect particular types of jobs in different ways, reducing the demand for certain skills that can be automated while increasing demand for other skills that are complementary to AI. Analysis by the White House Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) suggests that the negative effect of automation will be the greatest on lower-wage jobs, and that there is a risk that AI-driven automation will increase the wage gap between less-educated and more-educated workers, potentially increasing economic inequality. “

Another sign of the changes to come is the death of Moore’s Law. Moore’s Law is an observation from the chairman of Intel (computer processor manufacturer), that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit doubled every year since their invention. This is basically how our computers have been getting faster, we are stuffing more into them, reducing the distance electrons have to travel, but there is a problem, we are reaching a point where we can no longer do this, there is a physical limit and this progress has plateaued. In Ray’s essay (again, released in 2001), it states “After sixty years of devoted service, Moore’s Law will die a dignified death no later than the year 2019”. Does this mean progress will stop? Don’t bet on it.

Ray talks about what comes next after the death of Moore’s Law, “A specific paradigm (a method or approach to solving a problem, e.g. shrinking transistors on an integrated circuit as an approach to making more powerful computers) provides exponential growth until the method exhausts its potential. When this happens, a paradigm shift (i.e., a fundamental change in the approach) occurs, which enables exponential growth to continue.” Well, that paradigm shift is starting, at CES 2019 (a worldwide showcase of consumer technologies) IBM announced the first commercially available Quantum Computer called IBM Q System One. Right now, this system is as big as a room and not particularly efficient, but soon this new platform of computing will make our current super computers look like the computers we sent to the moon in Apollo 11.

My point is this, Ray’s essay stretches the limit of what is real and science fiction for sure. A lot of his predictions have come true, and they align with our government’s current position. In the document “PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE”, our government acknowledges the possibility of this Singularity, they state “People have long speculated on the implications of computers becoming more intelligent than humans. Some predict that a sufficiently intelligent AI could be tasked with developing even better, more intelligent systems, and that these in turn could be used to create systems with yet greater intelligence, and so on, leading in principle to an ‘intelligence explosion’ or ‘singularity’ in which machines quickly race far ahead of humans in intelligence. If computers could exert control over many critical systems, the result could be havoc, with humans no longer in control of their destiny at best and extinct at worst”. This is exactly how Ray’s Law of Accelerating Returns works!

If this Singularity is not a threat to us, I highly believe that the distractions of our future will be. The public will not be ready for how fast things can change. We are already struggling with mass depression, technology giants like Facebook already tapping into our primal needs to feel wanted and validated 24/7, taking advantage our dopamine reward system to keep us hooked (Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook did study Psychology after all). At the same time we watch other people creating fake lives of pure adventure and fun with their posts, making others feel worse and worse about their own lives. What could happen when these giants gain access to Quantum Computing technology, and have Artificial Intelligence to sort through the massive amounts of data they are collecting on us? The fight for our attention has never been bloodier. Netflix now spends 85% of their budget on original content, why do you think they can’t seem to produce an original content show that bombs?

Technology has always been a double-edged sword, we are about to see some of the most amazing and mind-blowing things happen. Problems that have plagued our species have the potential to be eradicated once and for all. At the same time, it has never been harder to keep our focus on our important goals. I hope that this may convince some to start looking into the topic with an open mind. If you can stomach the 60+pages of Ray’s essay, I would highly suggest reading it as well. The fight for our lives and attention is here, if even some of these topics are true, now is the time to be preparing.

Works Cited
Kurzweil, Ray. “The Law of Accelerating Returns”. Kurzweil accelerating returns essays. March 7, 2001. http://www.kurzweilai.net/the-law-of-accelerating-returns

Executive Office of the President “PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE”. National Science and Technology Council Committee on Technology. October 2016

Dignan, Larry. CES 2019: Did IBM just reveal first commercial quantum computer? Between the lines. January 8, 2019. https://www.zdnet.com/article/ibm-at-ces-2019-outlines-q-system-one-quantum-computer/

Spangler, Todd. Netflix Content Chief Says 85% of New Spending Is on Originals. Variety. May 14, 2018. https://variety.com/2018/digital/news/netflix-original-spending-85-percent-1202809623/

2 Likes

#2

Can anyone help me with a way to edit this Topic? The format is awful and hard to read. (Why does it scroll to the right?)

Thank you!!!

2 Likes

#3

Maybe edit your post with the edit button and copy paste the text into the post!

I will see if one of the mods can help you!
@patm @micheleminno @healthyswimmer

Excited to read your post and also welcome to the HTC.

0 Likes

#4

Thank you for the warm welcome Siddhi, do you mean to copy and past the text into a reply? When I try to edit the text, I can not seem to edit anything. :sweat_smile:

1 Like

#5

Yes! Copy and paste into a seperate reply so the text is like this post!

0 Likes

#7

Sorry all! This is my first post, please bear with me!

In 2001 a computer scientist named Ray Kurzweil wrote an essay called “The Law of Accelerating Returns”. The essay focuses on the rate technology and change progresses, Ray points out that change has been exponential (the change happening faster and faster) all the way down to evolution. In my view, this “law” seems to expand all the way into the creation of our universe. We know that space is expanding, and the farther a galaxy moves away from us, the faster it moves. He believes technology has been doing the same thing, and it could soon reach a point that humans simply will not be able to keep up with this rate of change. This “Tech Explosion” he refers to as the Singularity. Ray warns that technology like Artificial Intelligence could soon have control of our destiny.

There is a problem with Ray’s essay though, it leads to some MAJOR skepticism and to be honest, it is pretty “out there”. The essay talks about reverse engineering the human brain, making a digital copy of it, and saving it to a computer (even going as far as talking about the ethics of this). I am an IT professional by trade, so I can kind of understand some of his points that make something like this possible, but the general public will probably discount the entire essay as Science Fiction. As I read the essay, he predicted many things that have come true 18 years later, and they deserve some major attention, especially since we are officially entering an age of Artificial Intelligence.

I my attempt to review this essay for facts and to shed additional light on this broad topic, I searched the internet and found a document that to me at least, is the best source of actual facts regarding Artificial Intelligence that is available; “PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE” from the Executive Office of the President, National Science and Technology Council Committee on Technology”, released in 2016. I will be using this document and other current technology examples as tools to filter out some truths that skeptics might have otherwise considered Science Fiction.

To start, I would to talk about the product Google just announced will be available in March of 2019 called Duplex. This product is the first taste of real artificial intelligence the public will have. This amazing piece of software will allow our virtual assistant to call and make appointments for us, having a full-blown conversation with the person who answers! Duplex has an eerily human sounding voice, the person on the other end of the call will have no idea they are talking to a virtual assistant in someone’s phone. In Ray’s essay, he states “This is the nature of exponential growth. Although technology grows in the exponential domain, we humans live in a linear world. So technological trends are not noticed as small levels of technological power are doubled. Then seemingly out of nowhere, a technology explodes into view”. The fact that all of a sudden, the phone in my pocket can make a phone call and set an appointment for me, proves this point.

Ray’s essay also states “the future will be far more surprising than most observers realize: few have truly internalized the implications of the fact that the rate of change itself is accelerating”. An immediate realization I had when I heard about Google Duplex was the possibility of many call center employees losing their jobs, I mean, why would a call center not want to replace their biggest expenditure, people? The official United States document “PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE” states “AI’s central economic effect in the short term will be the automation of tasks that could not be automated before. This will likely increase productivity and create wealth, but it may also affect particular types of jobs in different ways, reducing the demand for certain skills that can be automated while increasing demand for other skills that are complementary to AI. Analysis by the White House Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) suggests that the negative effect of automation will be the greatest on lower-wage jobs, and that there is a risk that AI-driven automation will increase the wage gap between less-educated and more-educated workers, potentially increasing economic inequality. “

Another sign of the changes to come is the death of Moore’s Law. Moore’s Law is an observation from the chairman of Intel (computer processor manufacturer), that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit doubled every year since their invention. This is basically how our computers have been getting faster, we are stuffing more into them, reducing the distance electrons have to travel, but there is a problem, we are reaching a point where we can no longer do this, there is a physical limit and this progress has plateaued. In Ray’s essay (again, released in 2001), it states “After sixty years of devoted service, Moore’s Law will die a dignified death no later than the year 2019”. Does this mean progress will stop? Don’t bet on it.

Ray talks about what comes next after the death of Moore’s Law, “A specific paradigm (a method or approach to solving a problem, e.g. shrinking transistors on an integrated circuit as an approach to making more powerful computers) provides exponential growth until the method exhausts its potential. When this happens, a paradigm shift (i.e., a fundamental change in the approach) occurs, which enables exponential growth to continue.” Well, that paradigm shift is starting, at CES 2019 (a worldwide showcase of consumer technologies) IBM announced the first commercially available Quantum Computer called IBM Q System One. Right now, this system is as big as a room and not particularly efficient, but soon this new platform of computing will make our current super computers look like the computers we sent to the moon in Apollo 11.

My point is this, Ray’s essay stretches the limit of what is real and science fiction for sure. A lot of his predictions have come true, and they align with our government’s current position. In the document “PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE”, our government acknowledges the possibility of this Singularity, they state “People have long speculated on the implications of computers becoming more intelligent than humans. Some predict that a sufficiently intelligent AI could be tasked with developing even better, more intelligent systems, and that these in turn could be used to create systems with yet greater intelligence, and so on, leading in principle to an ‘intelligence explosion’ or ‘singularity’ in which machines quickly race far ahead of humans in intelligence. If computers could exert control over many critical systems, the result could be havoc, with humans no longer in control of their destiny at best and extinct at worst”. This is exactly how Ray’s Law of Accelerating Returns works!

If this Singularity is not a threat to us, I highly believe that the distractions of our future will be. The public will not be ready for how fast things can change. We are already struggling with mass depression, technology giants like Facebook already tapping into our primal needs to feel wanted and validated 24/7, taking advantage our dopamine reward system to keep us hooked (Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook did study Psychology after all). At the same time we watch other people creating fake lives of pure adventure and fun with their posts, making others feel worse and worse about their own lives. What could happen when these giants gain access to Quantum Computing technology, and have Artificial Intelligence to sort through the massive amounts of data they are collecting on us? The fight for our attention has never been bloodier. Netflix now spends 85% of their budget on original content, why do you think they can’t seem to produce an original content show that bombs?

Technology has always been a double-edged sword, we are about to see some of the most amazing and mind-blowing things happen. Problems that have plagued our species have the potential to be eradicated once and for all. At the same time, it has never been harder to keep our focus on our important goals. I hope that this may convince some to start looking into the topic with an open mind. If you can stomach the 60+pages of Ray’s essay, I would highly suggest reading it as well. The fight for our lives and attention is here, if even some of these topics are true, now is the time to be preparing.

1 Like

#8

Lovely! Thanks for sharing!

0 Likes

#9

Thanks again Siddhi. What a mess I made!

0 Likes

#10

Its all good :wink:.

0 Likes

#11

Hi @fearlesstvn , welcome and thanks for sharing this with us. Almost an essay in its own right :wink:
Not a mess at all, just figuring out how this thing works which is completely understandable.

Your post is well layed out, and right up my alley. I’ve been following these developments and scenarios from people like Kurzweil for a long time as well.

As I understand it, this singularity will be the point in time where things really get away from us. The world, due to increasingly rapid self-advancing tech (e.g. AI building Super AI and so on) will become an incomprehensible place to us mere humans. Indeed we will not be able to keep up, this is already a pretty hard thing to do in this day and age. I would tend to say that it is not the distractions of the future that are the main threat, it is the distractions of today that lead us away from what is dubbed by the CHT as ‘Time Well Spent’. Which in this context can also be interpreted as time spend to build a humane future and prepare ourselves better for a new world.

On a lighter note, you say that Zuck studied Psychology… I think he mostly followed computer science classes and also he dropped out to focus on some silly internet project :wink:

Just saw this post by Douglas Rushkoff today, which I thought was an interesting thought experiment about Mark Zuckerberg and exaclty that:

2 Likes

#12

There is greater law that must be considered: Murphy’s Law, which states that whatever can go wrong will. What if the exponential growth of technology is built on a house of cards? For example, what would happen to the exponential growth rate if the aging power grid (how old is that technology?) that powers machines fails or if a technology that was developed in the 1940’s suddenly blows up AKA nuclear explosion?
My point is that the author’s rate of growth is also linear in that it is one sided: it increases and never declines. That is a short view or at least an inaccurate one.
Technology is best defined as the current state of knowledge, and it wasn’t that long ago when the best “technology” supported the idea that the world was flat. We know what we know and nothing more; like a thoroughbred with blinders charging forward with no peripheral view.
What does exponential growth that leads to a dead end look like? We will know when we get there and perhaps THAT may be closer than anyone can predict, especially as the cons begin to outgrow the pros.
The author uses the term “immortal”, when a better term might be “immoral.” Bad actors do immoral things; the fact that the bad actor is a machine makes no difference to a human being. Push the boundary too far and the next #metoo movement won’t be about sexual harassment but about technology. The exponential growth chart wont look so intimidating or unassailable then.

4 Likes

#13

Mndctrl, that is an excellent point about the distractions of today, I am sure most of us here are on the side of limiting our current distractions already. I tend to forget that most of the public will not share this discipline! This is such a new world already, it will be smart for me to focus on today’s distractions v.s. my fear of how much worse it will get. At least I feel like I am in the right place. :slight_smile:

As for the Zuckerberg psychology statement, that was taken from Wiki. I should be careful with my wording and quotes for sure, I just wanted to bring out the point that he knows fully well that he is exploiting our Dopamine Reward System with Random Reinforcement.

An excellent read about the exploitation of our Dopamine System:

Quote from Wiki about his background in psychology: (Just to make me feel better)
“He studied psychology and computer science and belonged to Alpha Epsilon Pi and Kirkland House.[8][13][25] In his sophomore year, he wrote a program that he called CourseMatch, which allowed users to make class selection decisions based on the choices of other students and also to help them form study groups.”

2 Likes

#14

The thought that his exponential view could be built on a house of cards actually makes me feel a lot better Turkwrks! Thank you for this realization.

In your opinion, where are some examples of the declines in the short view? Or examples you can see in the future?

When I think of his exponential growth hitting a dead end, I think of the next Paradigm Shift that can happen. (I.E. the next evolution in computing technology, Quantum Computing). I have never thought about systems like our aging power grid failing, causing this progress to halt.

1 Like

#15

@fearlesstvn welcome to CHT. I’m quite new here too :slight_smile: Thanks for your post

0 Likes

#16

This forum uses Markdown as rich text format, where four spaces or a tab means format as source code. I turned it to quoted text.

0 Likes

#17

Thank you for the welcome gkrishnaks! I hope you got something from it.

1 Like

#18

Aah, I will remember that the next time I copy/paste from Word!

0 Likes

#19

We, human beings, are the house of cards. The model (from what I can remember) stops at the human interface, but humans make mistakes. We use faulty assumptions, make poor decisions, act on ignorance, intentionally break laws, hurt others and ourselves. Plane crashes, bridge failures, space shuttle explosions, etc. are a few examples of technological failure that have a human cause.
The short view is the computer age.
Predictions? I need another cup of coffee and some time to think about it, but I suspect it will be spectacular in scale. I suspect the dead end may be triggered by a moral crisis that forces a change in values. Growth exists in computing power only because we assign value to it.

0 Likes

#20

What always made me laugh about the GAI singularity predictions is that we still have no clue how intelligence really works. It certainly isn’t measured in TFLOPS… that’s just churning speed, not critical thinking.

Artificial Intelligence is fundamentally based on presumed mathematical models how we thought the brain might work in the 1950s, reverse engineered. Here nearly 70 years later, we still don’t understanding most of how the brain works and yet we’re banking on 60-year-old computational emulations for how we thought it might work? I don’t think so.

0 Likes